Three of the four, four of the six, and five of the eight highest-ranked SEC teams lost on Saturday, a day like the conference had never experienced.
Alabama held firm at the No. 1 spot, beating-down Arkansas with predictable ease, but behind it, chaos ensued.
LSU lost on a last-second field goal at Ole Miss, and South Carolina suffered the same fate at Tennessee. Texas A&M couldn’t gut out a home win over Auburn, while Georgia coughed up a 13-point fourth-quarter lead at Vanderbilt.
Per ESPN's Brett McMurphy, the carnage was without precedent:
For first time ever 4 teams in AP's Top 15 from same conference (SEC) lose on same weekend: LSU, Georgia, Texas A&M, South Carolina— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) October 20, 2013
The SEC imploded on itself in Week 8, like a dying star, but the result of that implosion, again like a dying star, was a colorful supernova—something college football has never before seen.
This conference is too deep for its own good.
The depth of the SEC is far from ground-breaking news. Just last week—six days before “Upset Saturday”—it became the first conference in college football history to place eight teams in the AP Poll:
SEC becomes first league to have 8 teams ranked in a regular season poll: http://t.co/I1pWakoXIL— Ralph D. Russo (@ralphDrussoAP) October 13, 2013
Say what you will, ex post facto, about the depleted teams at Florida and Georgia. Both have looked bad in coping with massive injury issues. But even at half-strength and coming off of ugly losses, the Gators and Bulldogs are still (at least) two of the 35 best teams in America.
Last week's top eight might have taken an aggregate stock hit, but it still makes up a massive portion of the nation's best teams. And the resurgence of programs like Auburn and Missouri—while not good for its SEC opponents—is good for the SEC at large.
Still, it’s what lies beyond that former top eight that makes this league so special. The next layer of in-conference teams, which are technically below the SEC's mean, would be competitive in almost any other conference.
Is the SEC Overrated?
Ole Miss just beat LSU and took Texas A&M to the wire in Week 7. It will likely receive a good number of votes in this week’s polls, and it gives the league nine teams that have been ranked at some point this season.
That’s roughly 65 percent of the conference.
Tennessee has now proven twice that it can, in Knoxville, hang with anyone. Butch Jones has given his fans a team that they can finally get behind. Neyland Stadium is a venue that no team in America wants to visit—and that's the way it should be.
Vanderbilt has taken a small step back from last season, but is still good enough to compete for a bowl game and would likely have a crack at winning, say, the Big Ten Legends. James Franklin, Jordan Matthews and a plucky defense have that team operating at a very sound level.
And while it’s easy to point fingers at Arkansas—currently mired in an ugly five-game slump—the Razorbacks have been done in, largely, by a brutal piece of scheduling.
They started SEC play with A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama in four-straight weeks, have a bye in Week 9, then have to play Auburn at home and Ole Miss in Oxford.
When is that team supposed to come up for air?
Arkansas’ 0-4 start in SEC play (and its likely fall to 0-6) is a product and symbol of the league’s depth—not its weakness. Outside of Mississippi State and Kentucky, every single team presents a genuine threat under the right circumstances.
People outside of the SEC are eager to tear it down, which, though misguided, is understandable. The league has made a show of winning seven consecutive BCS National Championships, and its fans have been far from humble about its achievements.
When a week like Week 8 inevitably happens, and the SEC watches three of its four best teams suffer upsets, those outside folk will smell blood and pounce. There will be cheers like O-VER-RATE-ED (ironically an overrated chant) and accusations of a “down year.”
But it's madness to watch what happened on Saturday and claim that either of those things is true. The SEC is not having a down year. Quite the contrary. The league is painfully, epically, historically deep.
The real question is whether or not that's a good thing.